By Randall Osborne
West Coast Editor
SAN DIEGO ¿ As police and FBI agents continued to swarm outside the convention center here, the BIO 2001 International Biotechnology Convention and Exhibition closed Wednesday.
How did it go? Dan Eramian, vice president of communications for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, paused before answering.
¿Better than we expected,¿ he said, and smiled.
The meeting set records for attendees ¿ 14,000 registrants at last count, Eramian said ¿ and for the number who signed up as part of media organizations: 500.
¿We had large contingents from Germany, France, Great Britain and, obviously, Canada, because that¿s where we are going next year,¿ Eramian said. ¿We are now the dominant nexus, or meeting point, for the industry, and people from all over the world come here. Especially for people in Europe and Asia, this is where they go to get information, network, make collaborations and catch up.¿
Except for a few minor incidents, protestors ¿ who had vowed a powerful presence, with possible disruptions of the convention ¿ had little effect on anything, despite much media hoopla and some worry on the part of San Diego residents.
Long before the convention, BIO was working with law enforcement officials to ensure the safety of attendees, and to get the industry¿s message out through television stations, which were especially eager to cover what looked like a potential riot situation.
¿The protestors did a good job with the media, too,¿ Eramian said. ¿They got an enormous amount of attention. I was here three weeks before the meeting, and every time I¿d wake up, 5 o¿clock, 6, 7, 8 o¿clock news, there they would be on the news.¿
Activists even invited the Associated Press to their civil-disobedience training, he said, and the AP took photographs of people learning how to rappel from buildings.
¿That picture ran in every major newspaper in California,¿ Eramian said. ¿Why are they learning how to climb buildings? They¿re not doing it to have a dialogue. No one can say they didn¿t get their message out, but it may be that people rejected their message.¿
Footage of old protests was run again and again on television, he said.
¿If you have 1,000 people marching down the street, it¿s hard to balance that with a picture of a scientist,¿ Eramian said.
In any case, only indirect debate was conducted with outsiders in San Diego on such issues as genetically modified organisms in food, cloning and stem cell research.
¿It¿s too bad this has to take place on the street,¿ he said. ¿Some of the questions they were asking, BIO deals with every day in Washington ¿ with members of the media, people on Capitol Hill, bioethicists and religious leaders. Carl [Feldbaum, president of BIO] met with 14 religious leaders just a couple of weeks ago. We do these issues every single day; we¿re just not so visible about it.¿
The real story of the BIO 2001 meeting, Eramian said, was the improvement of the speaker panels, which provided a mix of scientific and financial experts, as well as cutting-edge thinkers, all assigned with taking up increasingly complicated issues in an industry still growing by leaps and bounds.
¿The quality reached a new zenith,¿ he said. ¿There was a lot of soul searching, a lot of questioning going on, a lot of introspection.¿
Next year¿s convention will be held in Toronto, running June 9 through 12.